BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – There aren’t too many things more important to Damon Edwards than winning. But here are a few that are – staying true to oneself, tradition, excellence and loyalty.
Oh, and two other things – Cedar Crest High School and the game of football.
After putting in a load of hard work during the off-season, Edwards’ senior season on the Cedar Crest football field hasn’t panned out the way he planned. But in true Edwards fashion, he has adapted, he has overcome and he has never lost hope.
An athletic 5-11, 185-pound two-way performer, Edwards does a little bit of everything for the Falcons, including toting the rock and shutting down opponents’ biggest offensive threat. But his biggest contributions to the Falcons may come on the mental and emotional side of the ball.
“I definitely believe I’m a leader by example,” said Edwards, between drills during Thursday’s practice. “I try to do everything as hard as I can all the time. I try to work hard every practice. I hope when people watch me play they see me as one of the best athletes. I hope they remember me as a kid who gave everything he had every play, from my sophomore year to my senior year.
“No matter what our team record is, I’m always motivated,” Edwards added. “I never go into anything saying, ‘there’s no point in trying.'”
Cedar Crest is certainly not playing to the level Edwards had hoped coming into the year, as evidenced by the Falcons’ 1-5 overall mark. But with four regular-season games remaining, the Falcons haven’t been mathematically eliminated from reaching their preseason goal of qualifying for the District Three Class AAAA tournament.
While there’s still hope, Edwards refuses to budge.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted,” said Edwards. “We would definitely like more wins. But our goals are still within reach. On paper, we didn’t have a lot of returning starters. It was pretty much just me and Evan (Horn). I’ve played with these kids since I was young, and I know these kids can play.
“We’re beating ourselves,” continued Edwards. “It’s the penalties, the mistakes we’re making on offense and the blown coverages on defense. They’re things that can be fixed. It’s adjustments, and things are still within our grasp.”
“I think the young man deserves all the attention he gets,” said Cedar Crest first-year head coach Rob Wildasin. “He’s put in a ton of work. Regardless of the season we’ve had, his effort has stood out.”
Although he also runs for the highly successful Cedar Crest boys’ track and field program, Edwards began preparing for his senior campaign the minute his junior season came to an end. While the fact that the Falcons have won only a handful of games during his three-year career sticks in his craw, Edwards refuses to let it dampen his enthusiasm for the game.
“As soon as the last football season was over, I went right into indoor track,I worked out three times a day and then went out for outdoor track with Coach (Rob) Bare,” said Edwards. “It was about being the best athlete I could be. It was about pushing myself everyday, whether it was with Coach Bare or pushing myself at home when no one else was around.
“Isn’t that the goal for every kid, to be the best athlete they can be?,” continued Edwards. “If not, there’s no point waking up early and trying to improve. It’s an internal motivation, to be better than you were the day before.”
“He’s a good example for the rest of the players,” said Wildasin of his offensive workhorse. “He takes care of his business, and he’s a great example for the younger kids to go about their’s.”
It’s certainly easier to motivate the members of a 5-1 team than it is to motivate those of a 1-5 squad. But with Edwards, the motivation comes from within.
“If our wins and losses were reversed, I think more kids would be excited,” said Edwards. “That’s when it comes down to captains showing them we can still do some great things the last few weeks.
“I play both ways and on special teams,” added Edwards. “My job is to produce on the field. My role is to get guys excited, because I’m a senior. I can offer advice. I try to tell kids what they need to know. I try to be a player/coach.”
While Edwards’ role on the field for Crest may be as a player/coach, one of his roles off the field is as just a coach. During his spare time, mostly on Sundays, Edwards helps mentor the Ebenezer Falcons of the Lebanon County Midget Football League, the place where it all began for him.
“I help with the running backs and linebackers as an assistant to Ebenezer Coach Alonzo Apple,” said Edwards. “Since I stopped playing at Ebenezer, I wanted to go back and work with the kids. It’s a lot of fun. They still run the same offense and defense. It’s fun to give back to a program like that, where I learned the game. It’s (one day becoming a coach) a possibility.”
“He’s a great kid,” said Wildasin of Edwards. “I knew him since I coached him in basketball in the seventh grade. I loved coaching him then and I love coaching him now. He’s a respectful young man. He’s a leader in our school. And he’s very humble.”
But for all of his cerebral attributes, Edwards is also a ‘beast’ on the field. Damon, who comes from a long line of football-playing Edwards, is fast, instinctive and stronger than he looks.
“During my three years here, we definitely haven’t had that many wins,” said Edwards. “Every win was amazing and memorable. But success isn’t always measured by winning. Winning isn’t everything.
“Team goals always come before individual goals,” Edwards added. “Before the season, I wanted to be on the (all-star) section team and county team. Originally the goal was 15 touchdowns at the beginning of the season. No, the team goals haven’t changed. There’s still a lot of football to be played. A lot of things can happen.”
“Damon really sets the tone for us defensively,” said Wildasin. “Offensively, he’s a huge threat with his speed. He’s a main cog for us defensively. Even when he’s not making tackles, he’s making plays.”
It may be difficult for Edwards to envision a future without football. But more and more he’s preparing himself for the possibility.
“I have ideas. I have options,” said Edwards of his academic pursuits beyond high school. “I’d love to play football in college. I definitely want to study political science, and I definitely want to be a lawyer. But if I could find a school that also has football, it would be great.”